Al Jourgensen is still alive, which comes as a surprise to many, probably including himself. The notorious frontman for Industrial Rock trailblazers Ministry has imbibed enough drug, drink and who knows what else to down a family of elephants, yet here he is delivering the band’s 14th studio album, AmeriKKKant, some 37 years after Ministry’s formation.
“We all are surprised he’s still alive,” Sin Quirin, who has been a guitarist in Ministry since 2007, says by phone from Los Angeles, where the band is rehearsing in preparation for its latest tour. “Keith Richards is surprised Al is still with us.”
Jourgensen might be the only member left from the band’s late ’80s/early ’90s heyday — which crested with a high-profile slot on the 1992 Lollapalooza tour and the video for “Jesus Built My Hotrod in rotation on MTV — but not much has changed in Ministry’s sonic formula during the intervening quarter century. AmeriKKKant rides a wave of bombastic beats, thunderous guitar riffs and Jourgensen’s ever-menacing vocals. It’s also preoccupied with Donald Trump, which should come as no surprise — Jourgensen has been interested in politics at least as far back as 1992’s “N.W.O.,” which protested the United States’ involvement in the Persian Gulf War. He was also a persistent critic of George W. Bush.
But AmeriKKKant goes beyond anything Jourgensen has done in terms of political and social critique — it’s a concept record about the rise and predicted fall of our current president, even going as far as using Trump’s (often manipulated) voice in several songs.
Quirin concedes the finished product is unmistakably political, but he says Jourgensen’s lyrical and thematic approach was inspired more by the dense, atmospheric music they wrote prior to Trump’s accession to the White House.
“There was a conscious decision, even before all the lyrics were done and we just had ideas, to make it sort of a cohesive album as opposed to just a bunch of singles or independent songs,” Quirin says. “We did want to touch on and go back to the way we used to hear albums when we were kids. It was front to back experience. You didn’t just hear one song. It was like one song sort led to the other and then led to the other. So that was deliberate, but it’s not like we sat down and said, ‘OK, we’re making a political concept album.’ That’s not how it went but it slowly evolved into what it is.”
While Quirin (and many others) might be surprised Jourgensen has survived his various chemical indulgences over the years, there is no question that the frontman remains as artistically engaged as ever.
“He’s a very unique individual,” says Quirin. “He’s very talented and always keeps you on your toes. If you think he’s going to go right, he’s going to go left. That kind of stuff is what piques your musical curiosity and it always keeps you going. It’s something that’s very stimulating to be around people like that, artists like that, to always kind of push you. There’s definitely never a dull moment with Al.”